culture Archives - The Jose Vilson


Mario Morales, AfroLatino

When we talk about black maybe
We talk about situations
Of people of color and because you are that color
You endure obstacles and opposition
And not all the time from … from other nationalities
Sometimes it comes from your own kind
Or maybe even your own mind
You get judged … you get laughed at…you get looked at wrong
You get sighted for not being strong
The struggle of just being you
The struggle of just being us…black maybe

- Common, “U Black, Maybe”

There’s something about being AfroLatino that people don’t quite understand. There’s an understanding of seeing race and culture as these malleable things that far too many people can’t always comprehend. Self-identity as a process complicates relationships, because whenever you think you have yourself figured out, others’ perceptions of you interfere with the mold you’ve already decided for yourself. They probe, poke, talk, whisper, yell, ask too many damn questions, and you’re asked to answer them as if you’re the representative of everyone in this self-identifying category. In general, people compromise on the intersection of race as a perception of self and a perception of someone else.

That’s why AfroLatinos get aggravated the most. People who consider themselves of one definite race never understand the emphasis of such a title. Many White people think it’s an intimidating title assuring the dominant culture that they won’t conform to their simplistic racial structures. Whether the reason they’re intimidated is because of the Afro or Latino remains to be seen. Many Black people, on the other hand, see the term AfroLatino as a way for people from Latin America to ostracize if not banish their African roots in favor of the Spaniard colonizers’ blood. Of course, I question whether people never noticed that the title “AfroLatino” puts Black first, and “Latino” isn’t the same as Spanish.

But it seems that, for many, speaking Spanish and being Spanish are exactly the same thing.

As we speak, people question whether such a title dilutes or disbands people of color in certain struggles for equity. To that end, I have four things to say. First, AfroLatino for almost everyone I know almost always means an inclusion and understanding of all the parts they represent and the histories that come with our origins. Secondly, we usually do this against the wishes and nudges of our last generation’s countries of origin (i.e. Dominican Republic, Mexico, Brazil), accentuating our Blackness as we grow. Third, we as a whole have to do better in finding characteristics of our race and culture without highlighting the negatives exclusively, because we’re allowed to smile against those odds and should continue to do so.

Fourth, one of the greatest African-American cultural researchers and scholars happened to be an AfroLatino: Arturo Schomburg. Not ironically, the public library and museum named after him are a few blocks away from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and on Malcolm X Boulevard right in the middle of USA’s original Black Mecca: Harlem. During his time on this Earth, people of his own kind belittled the contributions he made to the cultural movement, but now people recognize what he’s done not just for people of color in this country, for an entire nation.

Afro-Latino is a term of unity, an umbrella under which we invite people to contribute the best of their culture and progress past the titles set for us under rules we didn’t create but perpetuate. I can be Latino and Black at the same time, because my contributions to both cultures may not be enumerated or listed.

It’s tough enough just being ourselves when people want us to conform to their order. While people may point to outside factors for their own identification, I assure you my revolution is much more personal.

Mr. Vilson, who will have more to say by mañana …

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Glory, by Rory Amor

Normally, I don’t start posts like this, but imagine my annoyance at another misinformed message regarding Black History Month, this time from an unlikely source. Not sure who first posted it, but in the video, Morgan Freeman asserts two points:

  1. Black history is American history, so we shouldn’t relegate the history to a month. To an extent, it’s true, but then …
  2. The best way to get rid of racism is to stop talking about it. Just refer to others as their names and that’s all there is to it.

I love Morgan Freeman, but I hope that doesn’t soften my critique of his position about the influence of race in our country, and from my point of view, the way we school (and educate) children of color. First, Carter G. Woodson first created Negro History Week to ensure that people didn’t forget that Black history was a part of the American story. As with most stories, we also know that the victor of the wars gets to tell his story. Thus, what we’re seeing now is a watered-down version of the history I’m sure he envisioned. He is the author of one of the quintessential Black books in American history, The Mis-Education of the Negro, must-read material. It’s a book that’s relevant because he speaks about how African-Americans (and others in the African diaspora) needn’t be told to walk through the metaphorical back door after seeing generations of ancestors do it; after a while, they just do it as a force of habit, never realizing that their masters walk through the front door just fine. This is their education; there must be one.


In the periphery around Black History Month lies how we address social studies and becoming a well-informed citizen. I speak on this often, but I truly believe present and future curricula should root its foundations in social studies and science, not math and English. Because they’re harder to assess and more complex, I see ways for children to ask the right questions about how society functions and the balance between the human politic and human nature. Yes, Black history is American history, same with the other “races.” Yet, in the context of our current education system, we’re dumb lucky (and blessed with  centuries of struggle) that enough teachers believe studying Blacks in this country makes sense. Even if it’s just MLK and Rosa Parks.

So, what do we do about Black history? Let’s discuss it in the present. I find cogent examples of the way race plays into our culture daily, but because we’re not using names as per Freeman’s suggestions, we don’t see racism, do we? How about Dan Brown and Stephen Lazar both shedding light of the racial make-up of the typical Teach for America recruit at the recent Education Writers Association panels, and jointly, Diane Ravitch reminding people how it’s always the most underprivileged kids that get the most inexperienced and unproven teachers? How about Dick Vitale saying that the LeBron-Wade-Bosh-Melo-free-agent-dujour mess is like “the inmates running the asylum,” ignoring the racial undertones of young Black and Latino men as inmates, and him making millions off of mostly unpaid Black athletes?

Also note the systematic nature of all these pieces.

How about NYC testing out pre-kindergarten classes where mostly Black and Latino kids “learning” by running around and making as much noise as they want to, 60 per class with teachers on the walls looking onwards? Or how about stuffing as many “small schools” as possible into a building not meant to organizationally sustain such a model? How about closing 1/2 the schools in the 22nd most populated school district by 2014, the same year the Common Core Standards are supposed to go into effect? Can you imagine the perturbed feeling some of us had seeing Beyonce in blackface for a magazine in France, when every time she’s put in an ad or TV show here in the US, she’s Photoshopped to lighter gradients?

A few years back, The NewBlackMan (Mark Anthony Neal) discussed Denzel Washington’s comfort with the role of “race man,” a disposition of the role model who just happens to be part of any race other than the dominant one. Denzel particularly excels at this with critical and popular acclaim, receiving positive ratings from all audiences. He can tow the balance between the racially charged themes and the mainstream topics. It’s almost as if he’s implicitly doing his part to spread the idea of “Black history” across the entire year. Maybe that’s the approach people like me need to take.

Because this country is not at a point where someone like me doesn’t have to mention race wherever I go, but occasionally, it’s nice to know that, if I haven’t gotten to it explicitly yet, someone else can. Even when they don’t have to.

Jose, who’s enjoying his vacation from working all day by … working all day.


Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., The First Meeting (Melvin Hale)

Jose: First off, you and I both know I don’t even like the word “minority” because, in the words of Piri Thomas, there’s nothing minor about me.

Mr. Vilson: Whoa, buddy! HAHA!

Jose: You know what I mean. There’s just no way we’re ever going to get respect in this country if we keep using that word on a daily basis about us!

Mr. Vilson: OK, fair enough, but I want to get to the question because it’s a fair question. I’m of the opinion that if everyone benefits from having people of different races and cultures in the classroom. It might not be the same thing for sex, though you know going to an all-boys school has its side effects in the relationship area …

Jose: Yeah, but what happens when kids from different background go to a school that’s supposedly diverse (meaning, there’s more than one color) but it’s overwhelmingly White and middle class? How does that environment support the few who’ve experienced the culture shock there?

Mr. Vilson: I’m not sure. In some schools, I’m sure it helps to have understanding faculty and colored staff that those individuals can lean on, and if not then …

Jose: YES! They fall by the wayside. All I’m saying is this: in history, there was a time when having all-Black schools was fine because Black teachers and staff made sure that kids had the skills to deal with the outside world. They learned their own histories and empowered each other in ways that can’t happen when culture is driven out of you by the dominant culture. When we read history books, it’s the same story. When we watch films, it’s the same story. When we listen to “good” music, it’s the same story.

Mr. Vilson: And that’s great, but you also know the struggle in this country to find equitable education for others. Separate and equal often meant separate and unequal. They didn’t get the same quality of books, the same facilities, or the same treatment when they tried to move on to high schools and colleges. I can’t imagine that people like Martin Luther King Jr. or anyone from that generation fought for nothing. How could you even think of perpetuating segregation when all that did was continue the deplorable socioeconomic treatment of our people?

Jose: Well, let’s ask then: did they? Look at how schools look now. Studies have shown that schools are more segregated than they were in MLK’s time, and that’s with MORE cultures in this country. Look at the situation in Arizona where only the curricula with heavy Mexican concentration in places where there’s a heavy Chicano influence have gotten bullied by local government officials. Now look at what’s happening all across the South where some districts have found ways to desegregate school districts …

Mr. Vilson: And government officials there are trying to fight it? So we’re going to give up desegregating because this country’s officials have found a way to tie race and economy in a way that creates a virtual caste system on too many levels? No way. We need to push for re-desegregation, because the only way our kids are going to get out of their little cocoons is to go out there and see what others are doing.

Jose: At the cost of their culture?

Mr. Vilson: It’s a risk they may have to take.

Jose: Well, we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

Mr. Vilson: Whatever that means.

Jose, who has these discussions with Mr. Vilson all the time …


Yes, We Still Have To Do Things Twice As Well

January 17, 2011 Jose
Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon B. Johnson

“Why don’t the adults ever have to get into dress code? It’s bullshit.” The student didn’t say it loud enough for the dean to hear it, but, with me standing right next to him, he could have whispered it and the message would have resonated clearly with me. The problem with his logic stems from […]

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DREAM Act: I Know God Has My Back

December 19, 2010 Jose
DREAM Act: A Reality

I took the train to my Mom’s house last night, hoping to help her with some of the chores, but ran out of funds. I jetted to my local bank, where a security guard sat there in a thick coat and an orange vest, calling a family member who obviously relayed some family gossip to […]

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Voices of Concerned Educators: The Twilight Zone and How Affluence Perpetuates the Achievement Gap [C. Marquez]

March 24, 2010 Jose
twilight zone

“You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the sign post up ahead, your next stop…The Twilight Zone!” ~Rod Serling As an elementary school administrator, I currently work in the Twilight Zone. This environment […]

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Notes from The Black and Latino Males in High School Forum

December 3, 2009 Jose
Black Male Student and Teacher Writing on Blackboard

On November 24th, 2009 at around 9am, I had the distinct pleasure of going to the NYU Metropolitan Center Policy for Urban Education Educational Forum. The topic was “How are Black and Latino males faring in our high schools?” hosted and moderated by Dr. Pedro Noguera, professor in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development […]

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